Alessandro Trovati/Associated Press file photo
SCHLADMING, Austria – Tina Maze will be the one to beat in the giant slalom at the World Championships, with Julia Mancuso of the United States expected to challenge the defending champion.
The Slovenian, who is vying to clinch the overall title, has dominated GS this year by winning the first four races. With two events left after the worlds, Maze holds an insurmountable lead over Austrian rivals Kathrin Zettel and Anna Fenninger for the World Cup title.
Mancuso won bronze in super-G last week for her eighth medal at major championships. She won the 2006 Olympic title but has failed to reach a GS podium at Olympics or worlds since.
She’s hoping to benefit from the course preparation in Schladming, where the slope is harder and icier than at most venues on the women’s circuit.
“A lot of our races have been prepared a little softer,” Mancuso said. “I’ve been better on ice, so I’m kind of happy that the snow will be hard.”
Mancuso, who switched her equipment supplier in the offseason to join the likes of Bode Miller, Ted Ligety and Lindsey Vonn at Head, has not yet rediscovered her old GS form.
She finished sixth in December in Courchevel, France, her best result of the season. With the favorable conditions, Mancuso looks to fare better at worlds.
“This season has been really good for me on hard snow,” Mancuso said. “So I look forward to the hill. I think it could be a good challenge.”
Maze has won at least silver in GS at every major championship since 2009 – including the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, and she is eager to earn more after taking gold in super-G and silver in super-combined in the last week at worlds.
“Being able to get a medal in every event is something special,” Maze said. “That’s something everyone is dreaming of.”
Enjoying a standout season, Maze is feeling the pressure to peak at worlds. Going into each race as a favorite is a weight on her shoulders.
Dealing with the all the expectations – and her own – is “the hardest part,” Maze said. “It’s not easy to stay calm.”
Along with Maze’s four victories, two-time World Cup GS champion Viktoria Rebensburg, Fenninger and Vonn also managed to win a race.
Vonn beat Maze in January in Maribor, Slovenia, but the American has been ruled out for the season after a knee injury from a crash last week in the opening super-G race.